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Batiste v. Quality Construction & Production LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division

February 21, 2018

DONALD BATISTE
v.
QUALITY CONSTRUCTION & PRODUCTION LLC, ET AL.

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          PATRICK J. HANNA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Pending before this Court is the motion for summary judgment that was filed by defendant Alliance Offshore L.L.C. (Rec. Doc. 82). The motion is opposed. Considering the evidence, the law, and the arguments of the parties, and for the reasons fully explained below, the motion is DENIED.

         Background

         The plaintiff, Donald Batiste, claims that he was injured on October 26, 2013 while standing on the deck of a vessel and engaged in the task of backloading the vessel from an offshore platform. It is undisputed that a three-year prescriptive period applied to his claim and expired on October 26, 2016, before the plaintiff's claim against Alliance was filed. The issue to be decided is whether the claim against Alliance relates back to the filing of the original complaint.

         In his original complaint, the plaintiff asserted negligence claims against three defendants, Quality Construction and Production, LLC, Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Company, and Arena Energy. (Rec. Doc. 1).[1] The plaintiff alleged that the platform was owned by Arena, that Arena leased the vessel, that H&P owned the oil rig on the platform, and that H&P operated the crane used to transfer cargo and equipment between the platform and the vessel. The plaintiff further alleged that Arena was responsible for keeping the vessel steady and for maintaining a safe environment on the vessel during transfers.

         Based on information allegedly obtained during discovery (Rec. Doc. 87 at 5), the plaintiff filed his first supplemental and amending complaint in August 2015, asserting negligence claims against WDS Global Partners, LLC, RCI Consultants, Inc., and Kilgore Offshore, Inc. (Rec. Doc. 44). In the amended complaint, the plaintiff alleged that Arena and/or WDS and/or RCI and/or Kilgore were responsible for keeping the vessel steady during transfers, keeping the vessel's deck clear from hazards, and providing a safe work environment. The plaintiff also alleged that Kilgore had a contract with Arena that required Kilgore to operate the vessel, supervise the transfer of material baskets and equipment from the platform to the vessel and the placement of those objects on the vessel's deck, keep the vessel's deck clear of hazards, and provide a safe environment for work aboard the vessel. The plaintiff further alleged that the vessel's captain was employed by Kilgore.

         Kilgore did not answer the complaint or appear in the lawsuit. However, counsel for Kilgore participated in a telephone status conference with the court in October 2016 and indicated that another party should be substituted for it in the litigation. (Rec. Doc. 53). The plaintiff contends that, about two weeks later, Kilgore produced a brokerage agreement between Kilgore and Alliance, indicating that Alliance was actually operating the vessel at the time of the plaintiff's alleged accident and injury. (Rec. Doc. 87 at 6). The plaintiff filed a second supplemental and amending complaint a month later, seeking to substitute Alliance for Kilgore. (Rec. Doc. 60).

         Alliance answered the complaint and argued that the plaintiff's claim against it was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. (Rec. Doc. 75). Alliance also asserted a cross-claim against Arena. In the cross-claim, Alliance asserted that the M/V NICHOLAS C was working for Arena under a Master Time Charter Agreement between Arena (as charterer) and Kilgore (as owner), and also asserted that Alliance was the demise owner and operator of the vessel while “Kilgore was the broker for the vessel acting on behalf of Alliance.” (Rec. Doc. 75 at 8).

         In support of the instant motion, Alliance argued that the plaintiff's claims against it should be dismissed because the second supplemental and amending complaint was filed after the prescriptive period elapsed and the claim asserted against it does not relate back to the original complaint that initiated this lawsuit.

         Analysis

         A. The Summary-Judgment Standard

         Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under the applicable governing law.[2] A genuine issue of material fact exists if a reasonable jury could render a verdict for the nonmoving party.[3]

         The party seeking summary judgment has the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those parts of the record that demonstrate the absence of genuine issues of material fact.[4] If the moving party carries its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of a material fact.[5] All facts and inferences are construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.[6]

         If the dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden by pointing out that there is insufficient proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim.[7] The motion should be granted if the nonmoving party cannot produce evidence to support an essential element of its claim.[8]

         B. Preliminary Factual Issue

         Before reaching the issue of whether the plaintiff's claim against Alliance relates back, there is a preliminary factual issue that must be addressed. No. evidence was presented in support of or in opposition to Alliance's motion establishing that the M/V NICHOLAS C was actually being operated by Alliance at the time of the plaintiff's alleged accident.

         The original complaint alleged that Arena “leased the vessel” (Rec. Doc. 1 at 2) but neither the vessel, its owner, or its operator was identified. The first supplemental and amending complaint similarly referred to a vessel but did not identify it; however, the plaintiff did allege that Kilgore contracted with Arena for “operating the vessel” (Rec. Doc. 44 at 3) and further alleged that the vessel's captain was employed by Kilgore (Rec. Doc. 44 at 4). In the second supplemental and amending complaint, the plaintiff again failed to identify the vessel and made identical allegations regarding Arena's contract for operation of the vessel and the employment of the vessel's captain, simply substituting Alliance for Kilgore. (Rec. Doc. 60 at 3-4).

         In its cross-claim against Arena, Alliance identified the M/V NICHOLAS C as the vessel involved in the subject incident and alleged that the vessel was operated by Alliance under a Master Time Charter Agreement between Arena, as charterer, and Kilgore, as owner. (Rec. Doc. 75 at 8). Alliance also alleged that it was “the demise owner and operator of the vessel, and Kilgore was the broker for the vessel acting on behalf of Alliance.” (Rec. Doc. 75 at 8).

         In support of the instant motion, Alliance submitted a master brokerage agreement between Kilgore and Alliance but no documentary evidence that this agreement pertained to the vessel on which the plaintiff's accident occurred. Along with his opposition memorandum, the plaintiff submitted a copy of Arena's discovery responses, which identified Kilgore as the owner of the vessel. (Rec. Doc. 87 at 3). The plaintiff also submitted a copy of ...


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